There’s still a year to go before Election Day, but the Minnesota governor’s race is already on. That became increasingly apparent to me Thursday, when I had the opportunity to visit with two candidates — one from each party — over the course of a couple of hours. I’ll write today about the first person I visited with; a subsequent post will be about the second.
Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, has served in the Minnesota Senate since 2002, and before that was in the state House for eight years. Bakk is currently the chair of the Senate Tax Committee, and he touted his knowledge of Minnesota fiscal and economic issues during our roughly 30-minute phone conversation.
“As I travel across the state in the governor’s campaign, very often someone will come to me and say, ‘You probably understand the budget situation better than anyone. … I bet it’s the deficit, isn’t it?’ But we have a very, very poorly performing economy.
“What I understand better than the other candidates is you cannot raise taxes enough to eliminate the deficit. … You need to have a combination of some additional tax revenue and some additional cuts … but not just those two.”
Bakk told me such an approach is needed based on “terrible” revenue numbers that are “$200 million below what was forecasted.” He added, “The economy is getting worse, not better, despite what you hear.”
The DFLer who has already gotten the endorsement of Dist. 22 Sen. Jim Vickerman has first-hand experience with a bad economy. A lifelong carpenter and union leader, Bakk found himself without work during the 1981-82 recession and ran out of unemployment and health insurance for his then-young family.
“When you go through that, you never forget it,” Bakk said. “I’m just a Democrat that believes the most important thing to people is on Friday, they have a check.”
Bakk said the next Minnesota governor — Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, as everyone who follows and doesn’t follow politics in this state knows by now, is opting not to seek a third term next November — will need to have an innovative approach and work hand-in-hand with all sides.
“The state has some really serious financial challenges, and there are going to be no easy solutions to this,” he said. “The next governor is going to have to be somebody that has built relationships … and is able to work with both labor and business, and work across the aisle.
“The current tone at the Capitol is intense partnership, and I would argue that that’s the tone Tim Pawlenty has set.”
A few short hours before I spoke with Bakk, Pawlenty announced his proposal of a constitutional amendment to limit state spending. Under the plan, spending in Minnesota’s two-year budgets could not exceed revenues raised during the previous biennium. Bakk questioned the proposal, yet was open to hearing Pawlenty present his plan before the Senate Tax Committee and said he planned to send a letter to the governor inviting him to appear before the group of lawmakers.
Bakk also said he has also asked Pawlenty to call a special session so that lawmakers can get a head start on financial matters, specifically a new bonding bill.
“There’s a lot of public infrastructure that we can work on,” Bakk said. “My point is, why then would we wait until February before we start talking. … Considering the job situation in the state, why wouldn’t we pass it (bonding bill) earlier and get projects in the queue?”
When summing his up his qualifications to be governor, Bakk looked lastly to his professional experience — but not as a politician in St. Paul.
“Carpenters are problem solvers,” he said. “Minnesota has some really serious problems. I would argue that we need governor that thins like a carpenter.”